Two years ago, Jake Anderson took three friends from India to an NBA basketball game. To his surprise, his friends weren’t very impressed with what they saw. “We thought basketball games were fast and entertaining. This was the opposite,” one of them said. That was when Anderson realized he had to do something to save the sport he loved. One year later he created a community-based league called “The Run and Only.”
“We take players that are terrifically talented and we break them up by their neighborhoods, so they are playing for real pride,” said Anderson. But pride is not they only element that sets this league apart from standard basketball play. The teams only play with four people on the court at a time, there is a 16-second shot clock, there are no timeouts, no free throws and no half-time. “By extracting all of the slowness out of the game, we find a way to speed the game up, make it condensed and more exciting,” said Anderson.
The league began in October, 2014, and has around 15 teams so far, but Anderson is planning to expand the roster as the league becomes more popular. Some of the teams that have played so far include teams from San Francisco (including the Mission, SOMA and Sunset neighborhoods), several from Oakland (including the OAK Champs, OAK Challengers, Oakland Regional, Oakland Downtown), plus teams from Richmond, Hayward and Stanford.
“It’s definitely the toughest game of basketball I ever played,” says player Winston Demmin, who plays for the San Francisco Champs.
Six months into its first season, Anderson says the league is about three things: “It’s about respecting the guys who had sacrificed their whole lives to play the game of basketball, it’s about providing cheap and terrific entertainment to the community and it’s about saving the game of basketball.”
The games are held in community gyms in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Around 150 people attend each event, where they get to see three games, a dunk contest and a live DJ. “They play hard for the fans and for people around here,” said Fiki Mbhair, who has attended three games so far. “I rather watch this game than the NBA,” he added.
Each game costs $10 to attend. But running the league costs far more. Anderson pays for the players, the venue, the security, the referees and the DJ. He and his wife, Deborah, are investing the money they saved up when Anderson worked as a junior partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture-capital firm that backed Apple, Google, Instagram and Whatsapp, among others. But he expects to make up the shortfall in the future by expanding the viewer base. “We have the chance to make real money if we decided to start streaming our games or letting the games be televised,” said Anderson.
Most of the players are former college athletes, but recruiting them for the league is not an easy task. Anderson said that they usually approach a local basketball player, someone born and raised in that city. They tell the person what they are trying to do and ask them to help them find an initial crop of 20 or 25 basketball players in that city. “Once we put up the first game and people come and see how terrific the game is, the money that gets paid is good and that we are not going anywhere, then more and more players become interested,” said Anderson.
The players, who work other day jobs, get paid $150 per game if they are on the winning team and $35 if they are on the losing one. But off the court is where these players really get paid—all of them have access to health insurance, a financial coach and a job-hunting assistant. “These are the things we do for the guys off the court and that is more meaningful for us than the basketball,” said Anderson.